The growing gap between the number of teachers available and the number needed has to be closed. That's why recruiting and training people from outside the teaching profession is a pragmatic step for now.
Some 2.4 million new teachers will be needed over the next 10 years. Already, experts say, there's not enough selectivity in hiring teachers. The shortage forces administrators to assign teachers with little or no experience who often lack certification.
Recruiting teachers from nontraditional pools (e.g., returning Peace Corps volunteers, teacher aides, and "career changers") has been touted as a way to help solve this growing problem.
These efforts, however, are strongly opposed by teachers' unions and schools of education. Some of the criticism is well-founded. So-called "alternative certification" can amount to too quick a fix. Handing someone an alternative teaching certificate after a mere three weeks of training obviously doesn't make them a qualified teacher. But when recruitment and certification programs are done right, they can be quite valuable. One such effort, endorsed by the Washington-based Urban Institute (which advocates its broader replication), is a teacher preparation program called Pathways to Teaching. It has some compelling points in its favor:
Strategies are tailored to the needs of a particular group. For instance, teacher aides had a lot of classroom experience, but lacked education theory, so that was emphasized. Peace Corps volunteers had a lot of content knowledge, but were taught needed classroom management skills.
A wide majority of those who went through the program stayed in teaching three years after certification, a rate much higher than the national average for recruits. Pathways recruits also were more likely to remain in needy schools, and more likely to be minorities.
A downside: The program hasn't been able to attract more men to the profession.
Critics deride it as nothing more than a jobs program. Yet finding and training individuals willing to commit themselves to troubled inner-city schools is no small accomplishment.
The teacher shortage ultimately will require deeper changes, such as larger salaries. Meanwhile, steps like Pathways can help meet the need.